INTERVIEW: SaM146 output said on target

SAM146 has yet to prove its worth Marc Sorel, PowerJet Chairman and CEO

The SaM146 turbofan engine is a product of PowerJet International, a joint venture of Russia’s Saturn and France’s Safran Aircraft Engines. At the moment this is the most up-to-date powerplant built with direct involvement of Russian engine makers. In his interview to ATO Show Observer, Russian Aviation Insider’s sister publication, PowerJet Chairman and CEO Marc Sorel elaborates on what is going on with the program right now and what it will face in the near future.

Eleven years ago, in June 2006, Saturn announced it had assembled the first test prototype of the Russian-French SaM146 engine. Can you reveal how many SaM146 engines had been built by July 1, 2017, and what their total accumulated operating time currently stands at.

We have delivered 250 engines. The accumulated operating time since the service entry of the SSJ100 in 2011 has reached about 650,000 hours and approximately 430,000 cycles.

This sounds impressive, considering that the SaM146 was reported in November last year to have logged half a million flight hours. How many powerplants will be handed over to customers in 2017, and what are the production plans for 2018?

We have managed to ramp up production in 2017; our goal is to exceed 70 engines per year, which would be a record output level for PowerJet. For 2018, the figures will stay on the current level.

Let us hope these plans will be realized. In 2016 and 2015, Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company built 22 and 17 SSJ100s respectively, which is quite in contrast with the 35 deliveries in 2014. Apparently, the company assembles fewer SSJ100 aircraft today than it was initially planning at the start of the program. Are you concerned with the SSJ100 not selling as well as it was originally expected?

It is true that sales on the regional aircraft market fall short of the expectations that we had 10 years ago. However, the SSJ100 manufacturer delivers as many aircraft as it was planning for this and future years. We do our best to stick to the delivery schedule as requested by our client, Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company. It is a tough task, because the aviation supply chain is nowadays overloaded due to a big number of newly emerging programs.

As for marketing the aircraft and the powerplant, PowerJet is absolutely positive that the program will be a success. The SSJ100’s technical parameters and operational performance are stunning, the program is being actively supported by the Russian government now and will continue enjoying funding in future, its seat-cost economics are highly competitive. It is not typical that we comment on airframers’ sales campaigns, but as the PowerJet CEO I would like to point out that we consider the SSJ100 to be one of the most promising projects in its class.

It is all clear now with the deliveries and the future prospects. However, some SSJ100 operators, especially those experienced with foreign-made aircraft, have reportedly been complaining about SaM146-related issues, such as the engine’s short service life, surface cracks in the combustion chamber, etc. Do you believe these allegations are reasonable? What is PowerJet doing to rectify the situation?

First, let me remind you that now, five years since the service entry, the engine is demonstrating CFM56-like reliability. Like any other new powerplant, the SaM146 is going through some teething problems. And for us, this standard maturation period is also an opportunity to improve on some of the engine parts, as well as achieving the designers’ ambitions to extend its service life.

On the other hand, our price quote for the services includes solutions customized to meet the specific needs of our clients, thus reducing AOG times and optimizing operational activity. We deploy field support teams, lease out spare engines, do preventive maintenance, and ensure the shortest possible repair-and-return times.

We have two EASA Part 145 certified MRO centers: one in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines outside Paris, the other in Russia’s Rybinsk. These allow us to respond to all MRO requests. As for the combustion chamber cracks, we have taken preventive steps and come up with repair solutions: all our customers will have these recommendations implemented as part of their scheduled maintenance checks.

“Like any other new powerplant, the SaM146 is going through some teething problems”

Understood. SSJ100 operators emphasize that there are not that many SaM146s available for leasing on the market, which affects the aircraft’s utilization a lot. How does PowerJet address this issue?

We believe that the market needs extra engines every once in a while. As a long-term solution, we are looking to increase our production capacities and offer more engines for the technical support program.

This is good news. Incidentally, your company announced earlier that improving aftersales support would be one of its priorities in order for the SaM146 program to break even by 2021. Could you tell us more about your aftersales support program?

It is a long-term business model as the engine’s design service life is about 25 years and even longer. So it is natural that, as the size and age of the engine fleet grow, the aftermarket service revenues will also go up. For the time being, however, it is too soon to identify a date when the business will start to get returns on the original investment.

PowerJet’s drive to expand the share of locally sourced components in the SaM146 is being widely discussed in Russia. What is your road map here? Is the Russian industry prepared for this?

We keep looking for ways to integrate Russian industrial facilities into the supply chain for the SaM146, LEAP, and CFM56 programs. Let us not forget that our cooperation with Saturn started in the 1990s, and was exactly about producing parts for the CFM56 engine. VolgAero, a 50/50 joint venture between Safran Aircraft Engines and UEC-Saturn, is another good example of fruitful cooperation. We believe the share of locally sourced components in the SaM146 program could grow in the future, and that those Russian companies which meet the certification requirements and demonstrate competitive performance might join the list of our suppliers.

We do have a road map with Rostec Corporation, which is Safran’s strategic partner in Russia. And we have also drafted a priority list of engine parts and certification requirements for our new partners here. We rate the Russian industry and its potential highly, there is no doubt they are motivated to meet the certification requirements.

We will be looking forward to the implementation of this road map. Let us talk about the engine’s development prospects. All four SaM146 versions have been certified by now. Will there be any new modifications in future?

We might develop a new version of the SaM146 for our customer after we have done a detailed market review. We constantly exchange information with SCAC on what adjustments should be made in order to meet the market requirements.

That was a pretty succinct answer. What are the chances of Russia’s Beriev Be-200 amphibian aircraft getting SaM146 engines? How long could such a project take?

This possibility is more than realistic, and we are studying it right now. Negotiations with Beriev are underway, and we are prepared to support the project. However, our commitment to it will depend on whether the Russian government will be willing to support the re-engining initiative.

The Beriev Be-200 is a very special concept, quite different to the SSJ100 architecture and mission, so we would need to provide some solutions to reconfigure the powerplant. As for the timeframe, it will be hard to offer one until we receive the airframer’s technical specifications and are able to evaluate the precise scope of work. Whatever the case, the primary idea for both Beriev and our company would be to customize the existing SaM146 versions.

By Artyom Korenyako

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